Whether you are looking for long views, a moonlit path or bright waves of wildflowers to put your senses on full alert, you will find a compelling experience on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland.

Whether you are looking for long views, a moonlit path or bright waves of wildflowers to put your senses on full alert, you will find a compelling experience on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Ashland.

A start at Grouse Gap (6,600 feet) offers a ramble through some of Mount Ashland's most well-watered meadows or a four-mile hike with an off-trail scramble to 7,147-foot Siskiyou Peak. To reach the gap, take Forest Road 20 two miles beyond the pavement at the top of Mount Ashland Road. Turn right after leaving a paved parking lot, and stay left at the next fork in the road.

Look for a well-marked PCT crossing on FR 40S30 immediately south of FR 20. Our tour climbs right (southwest) and quickly reaches a spring. Bring extra water for your dogs, because the spring is the last water in this section.

At one mile, about halfway to Siskiyou Peak, the trail twists north up an open rock face. As you break into the open and turn west, look for a side trail that leads up to crest-hugging FR 20 a few yards away. If you are hiking in the evening on the night of a full moon, you can use this exit trail to complete a round trip on a moon-washed road rather than drop into the gloom of the forest.

From the exit trail to a saddle north of Siskiyou Peak (1.1 miles), your route will be mostly in the open, which means with the right timing and a cloudless sky, the full moon illuminates most of the path. Just before reaching the 6,900-foot saddle, the PCT crosses a barren landscape cut by deep gullies and covered with a ground-hugging mountain buckwheat that sometimes smells like dirty socks. You can see the back of a road sign above you at Meridian Overlook, a viewpoint on FR 20 that's close to the Willamette Meridian. A downed barbed-wire fence parallels your path.

You will know the saddle, because the trail turns abruptly northwest and begins a climb into a forest, while the fallen fence heads up the grassy slope of Siskiyou Peak. You can follow the fence to the summit's rocky knob. On your return, the area's major peaks line up north to south in front of you — Wagner Butte, McDonald Peak and Mount Ashland.

If you've come for the moonlight, skip the peak scramble to avoid being caught off-trail at dusk. Start your hike in daylight, and know that you can return via the road if you panic or weather conditions change. Bring a headlamp, because tree cover or the sudden appearance of clouds can drastically change visibility. Even if you are not hiking after dark, bring extra clothing, because Mount Ashland is considerably cooler than the valley and experiences sudden changes in wind and cloud cover.

Wildflowers hug the ground and bloom out quickly along this exposed route. To the east of Grouse Gap, the wildflower show continues. The first flush of bloom that started with the retreat of snow in early June has faded, but taller, more brilliantly colored flowers follow in wet spots for an early August finale that includes yellow sneezeweed, purple monkshood and the spires of tall delphinium and pink sidalcia.

The drive to Grouse Gap passes by two PCT trailheads that offer opportunities for shuttle or out-and-back hikes through a mix of meadows and old forests of Shasta and grand fir. Look for a PCT crossing 7.2 miles up Mount Ashland Road. Park at a pullout on the right and cross the road for a 1.6-mile hike to Grouse Creek Road #40S15 or a 3.4-mile hike to Grouse Gap. To start at Grouse Creek Road, drive to the end of the pavement on Mount Ashland Road and continue straight for .4 miles. You will find a turnout for your car just beyond a new map board.

The PCT parallels crest-hugging FR 20, so if you are up for some long and dusty driving, you can access the trail farther west at Siskiyou, Wrangle or Jackson Gaps. For detailed information, consult the Forest Service topographical map "Applegate and West Half of the Ashland Ranger District," available for $6 at local Forest Service offices.

Mary Beth Lee is an Ashland writer. Reach her at gentlejourneys@ashlandhome.net.